The 2013 New York International Auto Show was full of important reveals this year… renewed crossovers - Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, an all new Range Rover Sport, the new BMW 335GT, freshened Dodge Durango, the all new Cadillac CTS and many more. The most important, however, were the Audi A3 and the Jeep Cherokee. Why? Both vehicles are very important to their brands and have the potential to generate substantial sales.
Audi Takes the Safe Route with A3: The 2015 Audi A3 really was not at the New York Auto Show. The A3 will be officially introduced at the Shanghai Auto Show in late April 2013, but there was a reveal for about 120 journalists the evening before the first press day. It will be launched in the USA in early 2014.
The smaller Audi A3 has anchored the Audi lineup with a five-door hatchback (“Sportback”) that never had much sales potential in the USA. American buyers continue to perceive liftback cars as cheaper, flimsier and less desirable. In Europe, the five-door is the preferred bodystyle primarily because European car-owners do not have the American-style family fleets where there is a vehicle for every purpose. For a one vehicle family, the hatchback can carry out a multitude of duties.
Recognizing that to really succeed in the USA market, the 2014 Audi A3 becomes a much more traditional three-box four-door sedan. This gives Audi an opportunity to really step up sales in the face of the upcoming front wheel drive Mercedes-Benz CLA and the already-on-the-market BMW 1-Series. Audi did not stray from its own winning formula. Audi DNA is present in the exterior styling and the interior with an A8-like sweep at the front of the instrument panel. Very nicely done, but not one obvious risk.
The A3 comes with four 4-cylinder engine choices – 170HP 1.8L turbo, 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 230HP), 150HP 2.0L turbo diesel and high output 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 275HP). The high output goes in the S3 model. The Sportback will return in the 2014 calendar year with e-tron plug-in hybrid technology.
The A3 will not be a Spartan A-Segment car. Audi is positioning it as a fully-featured Audi – just smaller. It will offer Audi’s MMI system, 4G LTE connectivity and even Audi’s Bang & Olufsen audio system.
One key takeaway from the A3 reveal is that the car is the same size as 1994 model year A4. A very successful car with solid sales results, the A4 was key in establishing Audi as a very desirable premium brand in the USA.
Something tells us that the A3 will not be an inexpensive car with its impressive standard equipment load (leather seating, bluetooth, rain sensing wipers and panoramic moon roof standard). With the slightly larger Mercedes CLA announced at a sub-$30,000 price we are wondering where the new A3 will be positioned?
Jeep Cherokee Returns While the Audi A3 is a low risk opportunity for volume growth, Jeep’s new Cherokee is at the polar opposite on the risk scale. Jeep describes the Cherokee’s styling as “polarizing” and it certainly is. Mike Manley, President of Jeep cautioned journalists in a December briefing before the Detroit Auto Show that “you might not understand” the vehicle. This was somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Cherry’s (head of GM styling in the late ’90s) statement that “you are too old to understand the (Pontiac) Aztek. In Manley’s defense, he describes the styling direction for the Cherokee as “something that will be fresh in 2019″. So Jeep has not taken this path lightly. It is a calculated step.
What is so polarizing about the Cherokee? First, it takes the name of one of the most successful SUVs ever produced. The 1980s Cherokee was the first high volume SUV to add a 4-door bodystyle to the lineup and soon proved that 4-doors, not 2-doors, were the way to go. The Cherokee had the seven vertical slot grill that is part of Jeep’s DNA, but it had rectangular headlamps that, while modern for the time, broke away from the traditional round headlamps Jeep used.
While the new Cherokee is relatively conventional from the A-Pillar rearward, its front end design is the most surprising and, yes, controversial. Instead of round headlamps, the Cherokee has horizontal units styled into the front fascia and fenders. Cherokee still has the seven vertical slots in the front fascia – part of Jeep DNA since the beginning – but they now are bent in the center giving the vehicle a more aerodynamic appearance. The story of the capability of the vehicle is being lost in the commentary about its front end styling.
Under the skin, the Cherokee uses the same Alfa/Fiat platform used by the new Dodge Dart. It has a 9-speed automatic transmission and three advanced 4×4 systems. The Trailhawk model is fully “Trail Rated”. Think of Trailhawk as the Cherokee Rubicon. Powered by a 184HP 2.4L Multi-Air TigerShark 4-cylinder engine, Jeep claims a cruising range of up to 490 miles and highway fuel economy of 31mpg. The optional 3.2L Pentastar V6 gets 271HP.
Cherokee has a full array of Chrysler’s latest features available from its UConnect information system with an 8.4-inch center screen and programmable instrument cluster, new steering wheel controls, parking assist systems, blind spot monitoring, cross path detection and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability. These features are becoming the price of entry in mid-size vehicles and even some smaller entries.
When Bob Lutz was a Chrysler he once said (of the early 2000′s Peterbilt style Ram pickup), “I don’t care if people love it or hate it as long as 15% of them love it enough to buy it”. That may be the case with the new Cherokee. A Polarizing design will certainly get people talking and writers writing. So far, it seems that the negatives are outweighing the positives on the Cherokee. It won’t take long to tell if the vehicle is a sales success. It begins production in April 2013.
Better say this right up front, with the possible exception of the new Chevy Malibu, Cadillac’s second-generation CTS may well be the most improved new car of the 2008 model year. To be sure, it’s the most impressive vehicle to carry the Cadillac badge since the stunning 1967 front-wheel-drive Eldorado
This car is so impressive it’s tough to recall how Cadillac got into the performance luxury sedan business to begin with. Like so many stories regarding General Motors as of late, this one has a significant overseas component. Almost five years after the astonishingly moronic proclamation of a now (fortunately) retired Cadillac chief engineer that, “Cadillac will be a front-drive car company,” the Catera debuted.
Little more than an Opel Omega with cosmetic revisions limited to a revised grille and rear decklid garnish with the requisite chassis retune and FMVSS compliance changes, the Catera was an expedient way to provide U.S. Cadillac dealers with a car the division hoped would help retain customers who had been leaving the nameplate for BMW and Lexus entries. Initially offered with a peculiar 56° vee 200HP 3.0L 24-valve DOHC six-cylinder engine mated to a 4-speed automatic, the Catera was the unfortunate recipient of what was barely a mid-pack powerplant. And the sometimes finicky V6 aside, while no 3-Series, the Catera was a decent car clothed in a decidedly innocuous wrapper. But if there’s one thing a Caddy should never
be, it’s innocuous. Not surprisingly, the Catera incurred the wrath of many journalists and self-proclaimed “analysts” from the get-go. One such insightful wag decreed the Catera spelled the “end of Cadillac” because it was not offered with a V8 engine. Yeah hum.
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There are few things more fun than walking through a major auto show along side AutoPacific Analyst and former General Motors brainiac, Jim Hall. You have to be patient. He knows everybody and everybody knows him, so the going is often slow. But the one liners you get to overhear as he comes upon the latest in concept cars are worth the wait. So we decided to follow him around the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, but this time,we brought the video camera.
Jim checked out the new Cadillac CTS, due to hit showroom floors this October. If you haven’t seen this performance sedan yet, you’re going to be blown away whether you’re a Cadillac fan or not. Cadillac must have had BMW’s 5 series and the Audi A6 in the crosshairs when they dreamed up this beauty. Even Jim was impressed.
He also reviewed a crop of new concepts -
Mercedes S-Class Convertible Ocean Drive
Jim went to design school, so watching him chat about stamped steel is actually interesting. And you can’t beat descriptions like “swoop du jour” and “Ingmar Bergman on acid.”
Thanks for the stroll, Jim. It was fun.
Show Runtime – 14:44
The first generation CTS was a true breakthrough for Cadillac. Love it or hate it, the polarizing design proved that Cadillac had guts. Furthermore, it proved again that “middle of the road” is no place Cadillac wanted to be. CTS sales were brisk, and Cadillac was once again talked about in positive terms.
Had to visit the Costco in Derby just to see if it was different from the Costco stores in the USA. NO! While the merchandise is slightly different (not as much Kirkland private label merchandise), the layout is very much the same. Much larger liquor department with an emphasis on champagne and cases of wine. Still at a substantial value.
Years ago, I read an interview with a Costco exec working on the planning for Costco stores in the UK. He was rubbing his hands with glee thinking about how their strategy of merchandising could transform British retailing. The uniquely American approach to the mass market is something dramatically different than traditional British retailing.
The parking lot was the surprise. Arriving at 10:45 AM (store opened at 10AM) the parking lot was only about a third full and many of the vehicles in the lot were saloon cars (sedans with trunks) rather than the Chelsea tractors (SUVs) that are found in the USA… at least in Orange County.
Note the parking spaces are relatively generous. Not the sub-compact spaces found in most other car parks in England.
Still, felt like a touch of home.
The Cadillac CTS continues to perform flawlessly through Derbyshire (pronounced “Darby-shir”) in the East Midlands of England. A couple of Motorway blasts followed by lumping around on B-Roads shows that the CTS is very flexible in the English driving environment. Still getting a fair amount of lookieloos in the city centres. Even saw a Stratsmore dealership that carries Cadillac and several other high end brands in Derby (prounced “Darby”).
Cadillac CTS at Kedleston Hall
Cadillac CTS at Hardwick Hall
For the past few days, I have been driving a Cadillac CTS around England. This evaluation is special because the CTS is the winner of AutoPacific’s 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Entry Luxury Cars in the USA.
Cadillac CTS at Newstead Abbey – Lord Byron’s Family Home
Cadillac CTS at Calke Abbey – Stately Home in Decline
The evaluation started at Heathrow Airport, driving to the outskirts of London and then North to the East Midlands. This drive isn’t as unique as that of former-colleague Rex Parker’s when his father shipped the family 1964 Lincoln Continental convertible to the UK for an extensive driving vacation in the ’60s, but the reaction to American iron is interesting and instructive.
CTS – D-Segment Luxury Entry in Europe
The CTS is an Entry Luxury Car in the USA, but is relatively large for the English driving environment. It dwarfs smaller Renault Clios, Ford Focus C-Max, smarts, Vauxhall Tigras, Ford Kas and the myriad of B and C-Class transportation available in Europe but not in the USA.
The CTS sold in the UK is built in Belgium and has right hand drive. While the CTS may be a bit large for the local car park of B and C-Class cars, there are fair number of BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class, Volvo S60, Audi A6, Peugeot 407, Renault Laguna and even the remaining Rover 75s and MG ZT saloons to compete with. With few CTS saloons sold in England, the car turns heads usually in the slow motion maneuvering through city centres. Young guys crane their heads to see what the Cadillac is.